The New Paltz Central School District will present a $68,999,093 budget for the 2022-23 school year to the public next month. Though the spending plan is more than $1 million lower than the 2021-22 budget, it comes with a 4.57 percent tax levy increase.
This year’s budget process was marked by change in the district’s business office, as Assistant Superintendent for Business Sharifa Carbon was placed on administrative leave last month. Since then, the spending plan has been shepherded forward by district Treasurer Debra Kosinski, who was named as school business administrator following Carbon’s departure; and Warren Donahue, a consultant who’s helped other local districts over the past few years after retiring from Ulster County BOCES in 2018.
During a final budget presentation held on Monday, April 18, Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina said the focus of the spending plan was on the district’s students.
“I’d like to center the conversation around students in K-12, because all of these conversations, our hard work, our commitment and dedication is to make sure that our kids have a brighter future,” she said. “To maintain and improve our instructional programs, to foster the curiosity that they all embody…To honor them as individual learners and as individuals as they grow mature and to support their social and emotional needs.”
To allow for that to happen, Urbina-Medina said, there was considerable work done on previous drafts, including reductions of nearly $1.3 million, and reclassifying roughly $526,200 to make them work.
“Over the past few days we’ve spent quite a bit of time working on looking at the budget line by line and moving money from one pile to the other essentially…in some cases reducing budget lines or reclassifying some of the expenditures,” Urbina-Medina said.
The 2022-23 budget comes in at $1,014,507 less than its predecessor and is at least partly supported by $2,465,855 in federal aid, which has to be used over a two-year period between 2022-23 and 2023-24.
Kosinski described the budget as having three distinct parts: Administration, program and capital.
The administrative budget is increasing by $98,108, in part due to a $296,100 jump in BOCES fees because of a capital project being undertaken by the shared educational services provider. The administrative part of the budget saw savings elsewhere, including $50,800 with the elimination of an admin position; and a reduction of $198,800 in the curriculum and staff development line to $655,900 by covering some of that expense with American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding for racial equity and bias awareness training.
The district will also see savings in the program portion of the budget to the tune of $1,337,044. The largest cut, $879,106, comes on the special education line, but Kosinski said much of that reduction was achieved by eliminating funding the district hasn’t used in the past.
“Quite a bit of that is due to out-of-district placements that we have set aside for a couple of years that we haven’t used,” she said. “We don’t anticipate using it next year, so we’ve taken out some money based on that. And it is also based on student IEP’s.”
Savings were also found by moving $179,700 in substance abuse counseling to be covered by ARP, and $226,500 in computer hardware to be covered by the Smart Schools Bond Act.
Reductions were also realized in the capital part of the spending plan, including $133,000 by eliminating a bus purchase, and dropping a transfer of $100,000 to cover a capital project. But there was also an increase of $498,300 in debt service.
“It’s not that our debt went up,” Kosinski said. “It’s just that the funding sources for that debt are now coming from the general fund.”
Because the district is seeking a tax levy increase at its state-mandated maximum, the budget will pass if it receives support from a simple majority of voters. Should that not come to pass, they have the option of presenting the budget again or going to a contingent budget, which Donahue stressed would be severe in both cuts and spending restrictions.
“If you think about that $1.8 million (in combined cuts and reclassified spending), we would have to go in and extract about another $2 million from this budget in order to bring us down to what the requirement would be for a contingent budget,” Donahue said.
In addition to making drastic cuts, a contingent budget would also require the district to review spending on certain non-essential field trips, after school programs, modified sports, musical instruments, new equipment except for anything health, safety and curriculum-related, class sizes, late buses, public facilities usage not fully covered by fees, certain enrichment programs, and nonessential maintenance.
“This isn’t happening,” said trustee Teresa Thompson of the contingent option. “It’s not happening…I think it’s important to have the community know…that should we have to go to the contingency budget, these are drastic cuts that will have repercussions for the students now and in the future.”
Board President Bianca Tanis said the spending plan, which trustees adopted at the end of their meeting, addresses priorities outlined by a community survey on the district website.
“This budget preserves what people have been writing to us about,” she said. “It preserves after-school programs, it preserves sports, it preserves extracurricular opportunities, class size, arts, music. And then fiscally we’re not touching our reserves or our fund balance, so it also helps us for the future.”
The NPCSD will hold a budget hearing at New Paltz High School on Wednesday, May 4 at 6:30 p.m. Voters in the district will determine the fate of the budget on Tuesday, May 17 with polls open in the high school gymnasium from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.